Religion Bulletin, August 2022: Cao Bang Dismantles Duong Van Minh Practitioner’s Altar, Replaces It With a Portrait of Ho Chi Minh

Religion Bulletin, August 2022: Cao Bang Dismantles Duong Van Minh Practitioner’s Altar, Replaces It With a Portrait of Ho Chi Minh
Graphic: The Vietnamese Magazine.

[The Government’s Reach]

Cao Bang authorities destroy funeral homes, storm into residences and dismantle altars

Duong Van Minh practitioners report that Bao Lam district police (Cao Bang Province) destroyed their places of worship on August 2, 2022. [1] Specifically, at 3 am and without warning, authorities sent officials into eight active sites to dismantle funeral homes and confiscate religious items.

After demolishing the funeral homes, police also sent forces to raid several households and continue dismantling altars, replacing the worship sites with portraits of Ho Chi Minh, former president of North Vietnam.

The altar at the residence of a Duong Van Minh practitioner before the police raid (left) and after. Photo: RFA.

Residents said that the public never saw the government announcement about funeral home demolitions and forced entries, as these acts were carried out according to secret documents and orders.

District authorities have confirmed the demolition of seven funeral houses and the blocking of four sites of weekly worship. [2]

All that remains of a Duong Van Minh funeral home is an empty lot after police destroyed it early on August 2, 2022. Photo: RFA.

According to State-run Cao Bang Radio and Television, the Bao Lam District authorities’ campaign against the Duong Van Minh religion was carried out based on a plan issued in June 2022 by the Party Executive Committee of Cao Bang Province. [3]

As it stands, Bao Lam district authorities have announced that "36 households /181 persons have signed pledges not to follow the illegal Duong Van Minh organization."

In addition to Bao Lam District, Ha Quang District in the same province has also begun opposing the Duong Van Minh religion, which is expected to be abolished by 2024. [4]

Bac Kan Province is also implementing a similar project with the goal of eliminating the Duong Van Minh religion by 2023, using the same methods as Cao Bang Province. [5]

The possibility remains that the plans to repress Duong Van Minh practitioners in Cao Bang and Bac Kan provinces are a part of the government’s “Project 78,” which is focused on "fighting, preventing, and ultimately eradicating the illegal Duong Van Minh organization."

In addition to these two provinces, Tuyen Quang Province also increased repression to eliminate the Duong Van Minh religion after its founder, Duong Van Minh, passed away in early 2022.

Further reading: Who's lying to you about the Duong Van Minh religion: the army or the police?

Six members of Tinh That Bong Lai appealed after being sentenced to more than 23 years in prison

As of August 21, 2022, six Tinh That Bong Lai members have submitted their appeals to the People's Court of Long An Province. [6]

The six individuals asserted their innocence and rejected the preliminary verdicts delivered in July 2022, with combined sentences totalling more than 23 years in prison.

Of the six convicted, Le Tung Van, 90, is believed to be the mastermind and leader of the group, all of whom have been accused of violating Article 331 of the 2015 Penal Code (amended and supplemented in 2017): “abusing democratic rights and freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the State, and the legitimate rights and interests of organizations and individuals.”

According to VietNamNet newspaper, Le Tung Van wrote in his appeal application: “I am old and do not leave the house. I lay in a hammock all day, even when guests visit. I don't know how to use a phone, and I don't know how to use social media. I only care about teaching my children and grandchildren how to meditate together. I have not taken advantage of democracy in any form and therefore have not infringed on the interests of the State or any organization or individual." [7]

Two of the six Tinh That Bong Lai members during the July 2022 preliminary trial. Photo: Long An newspaper.

Cao Thi Cuc, 62, one of the six convicted members, appealed on the grounds that the court found her a criminal was untrue. "I'm a housewife and cook and do not know about the above," she said. [8]

In recent years, numerous individuals have been prosecuted under Article 331 for using social media to express their political and social views.

Currently, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom lists the six Tinh That Bong Lai members as global victims of religious repression. The list includes 76 people from Vietnam. [9]

Government consults on two important decrees regarding religion

On August 9, 2022, the Government Committee for Religious Affairs (GCRA) organized a conference with government departments and experts to collect opinions on two drafts related to religion. [10]

The two drafts include one to replace Decree 162/2017/ND-CP on implementing some articles in the Law on Belief and Religion and another stipulating sanction for administrative violations in the right of belief and religion.

These two drafts will have an enormous impact on religious organizations if passed.

In addition, they will give the government more tools to control religious organizations, including administrative sanctions, remedies according to state regulations, regulations on online religious activities, and complete suspensions of all activities.

Previously, at the end of July 2022, the GCRA held a conference for dignitaries to comment directly on these two drafts. Most opinions were affirmative, but a number also suggested overhauling the two. [11]

Consultation of religious dignitaries regarding the two drafts has yet to occur directly and widely in the provinces and cities.

In addition to the GCRA, only the Central Committee of the Vietnamese Fatherland Front and the Hanoi Committee of the Vietnamese Fatherland Front have recently organized consultation sessions on these two drafts. [12][13]

The deadline for online comments on the two draft decrees on the  Ministry of Home Affairs website has already passed. [14]

For a summary of these two drafts, see the June 2022 Religion Bulletin.

Transferring Buddhist dignitaries: The Government decides, and the Church approves

On August 23, 2022, Tran Duc Thuy, the head of the Quang Binh Province Committee for Religious Affairs (CRA), reported that the provincial government had issued a decision to transfer a Buddhist dignitary to the province. The Vietnamese Buddhist Sangha approved this decision. [15]

The above events raised public questions about the government's transfer of dignitaries and functionaries as if they were government cadres.

A week later, the Quang Binh Province Department of Home Affairs issued a correction, stating that the transfer of dignitaries and functionaries was "an internal matter of the Sangha - selected and carried out by the Sangha. Authorities and the CRA in Quang Binh Province do not transfer, approve, or appoint [officials] as some information has indicated.” [16]

However, this “corrected” information remains inaccurate, because, according to Article 35 of the 2016 Law on Belief and Religion, the provincial government retains the authority to accept or refuse the transfer of religious dignitaries and functionaries from one place to another.

A Buddhist dignitary told RFA that in practice, Sangha leaders and the government jointly decide which dignitaries and functionaries to appoint to which positions, choices which are dependent on the individuals’ level of cooperation with the government. [17]

The Vietnamese government heavily interferes in the internal affairs of religious organizations, of which the Vietnamese Buddhist Sangha is the most heavily affected.

Further reading: When the state spoils the bonze

[Religion 360*]

Marking the International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief

From August 19-20, 2022, Cao Dai Chon Truyen practitioners and independent Protestant groups celebrated the “International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief.” The Facebook page of  BPSOS said the independent Cao Dai practitioners held the ceremony in An Giang, Tien Giang, Vinh Long, and Binh Duong provinces. [18] In particular, the government ordered a ceremony in An Giang to disperse, forcing the head of the household where the ceremony was held to sign a pledge not to hold the celebration.

Independent Cao Dai practitioners held a commemoration ceremony in Long Huu Commune (Can Duoc District, Long An Province) on August 22, 2022.

Photo: “BPSOS – Vietnamese Civil Rights Project” Facebook page.

In the Central Highlands, the Montagnard Stand for Justice Facebook page reported that independent Protestant groups in Dak Lak Province celebrated the International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief on August 22. [19]

On the same occasion, the diplomatic missions of the United States and other Western countries "condemn[ed] the ongoing acts of violence against individuals for their religion or belief, including those of minority religious groups”. [20]

[New Religions]

Ben Tre authorities confiscate Falun Gong materials from resident

According to Dong Khoi newspaper, on August 18, 2022, Chau Thanh District police in Ben Tre Province issued a report on an administrative violation against a resident in relation to Falun Gong materials. [21]

Police seized 67 Falun Gong documents at the person's home in Dinh Tho Hamlet, Tuong Da Commune, Chau Thanh District.

It is still being determined how police discovered the documents and whether they were distributed to the public.

Police conduct work with the individual prosecuted for possessing Falun Gong materials. Photo: Dong Khoi newspaper. 

Similar to other Falun Gong-related cases, the administrative violation report cited Government Decree #119/2020/ND-CP on administrative sanctions in journalism and publishing activities.

As such, the prosecuted individual is said to have violated state regulations when storing and distributing publications "without receipt, license, or document showing lawful origin".

For many years, local authorities and state media have labelled Falun Gong a "false religion” and have urged people not to join.

However, Vietnam does not have any regulations related to propagating beliefs that are considered "false religions," nor does Vietnamese law have any provisions on "false religions".

Further reading: Falun Gong in Vietnam: Why practice is allowed, but proselytization is banned

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